Herodotus is commonly considered the father of Western historiography, and certainly one of the oldest historians of mankind. In his works, of course, the nobility of the Ethiopians could not be ignored.
In the Third Book of his “Histories”, Herodotus describes the expansionist desires of King Cambyses of Persia, and his vain attempt to conquer Ethiopia.
“After this Cambyses planned three expeditions, against the Carchedonians, and against the Ammonians, and against the ‘long-lived’ Ethiopians, who dwelt on the Libyan coast of the southern sea. Taking counsel, he resolved to send his fleet against the Carchedonians and a part of his land army against the Ammonians; to Ethiopia he would send first spies, to see what truth there were in the story of a Table of the Sun in that country, and to spy out all else besides, under the pretext of bearing gifts for the Ethiopian king.” (Chapter 17)
In chapter 20 Herodotus teaches the superiority of Ethiopian people over any other:
οἱ δὲ Αἰθίοπες οὗτοι, ἐς τοὺς ἀποπέμπει ὁ Καμβύσης, λέγονται εἶναι μέγιστοι καὶ κάλλιστοι ἀνθρώπων πάντων.
“The Ethiopians to whom this embassy was sent by Cambyses, are said to be the biggest and handsomest men in the whole world.”
Herodotus speaks also about the peculiar and unique character of Ethiopian customs and culture:
“In their customs they differ greatly from the rest of mankind, and particularly in the way they choose their kings; for they find out the man who is the biggest of all the citizens, and of strength equal to his size, and appoint him to rule over them.”
In chapter XXI Herodotus also describes the nobility of Ethiopians and their King, and their disinterest in wars of aggression and conquest of other people’s territories:
“The Icthyophagi on reaching this people, delivered the gifts to the king of the country, and spoke as follows: ‘Cambyses, king of the Persians, anxious to become thy ally and sworn friend, has sent us to hold converse with thee, and to bear thee the gifts thou seest, which are the things wherein he himself delights the most’. Hereon the Ethiopian, who knew they came as spies, made answer: ‘The king of the Persians sent you not with these gifts because he much desired to become my sworn friend- nor is the account which ye give of yourselves true, for ye are come to search out my kingdom. Also your king is not a just man- for were he so, he had not coveted a land which is not his own, nor brought slavery on a people who never did him any wrong. Bear him this bow, and say: <<The king of the Ethiopians thus advises the king of the Persians when the Persians can pull a bow of this strength thus easily, then let him come with an army of superior strength against the long-lived Ethiopians >>, till then, let him thank the gods that they have not put it into the heart of the sons of the Ethiopians to covet countries which do not belong to them’.”
In chapter 22 another superiority of the Ethiopians is also highlighted, longevity, as they were called “long-lived”. The King of Ethiopia asked “what the Persian king was wont to eat, and to what age the longest-lived of the Persians had been known to attain. They told him that the king ate bread, and described the nature of wheat- adding that eighty years was the longest term of man’s life among the Persians. Hereat the Ethiopian remarked, ‘It does not surprise me, if they fed on dirt, that they die so soon’.”
In chapter 23 the King explains the diet of Ethiopians and relate their long life to a special Ethiopian fountain where they washed, i.e. the River of Eden and the famous “Fountain of Eternal Youth”, that we can find in other books of classic literature:
“The Icthyophagi then in their turn questioned the king concerning the term of life, and diet of his people, and were told that most of them lived to be a 120 years old, while some even went beyond that age- they ate boiled flesh, and had for their drink nothing but milk. When the Icthyophagi showed wonder at the number of the years, he led them to a fountain, wherein when they had washed, they found their flesh all glossy and sleek, as if they had bathed in oil- and a scent came from the spring like that of violets. The water was so weak, they said, that nothing would float in it, neither wood, nor any lighter substance, but all went to the bottom. If the account of this fountain be true, it would be their constant use of the water from it which makes them so long-lived.”
The wealth of the Ethiopian Kingdom was so special that “when they quitted the fountain the king led them to a prison, where the prisoners were all of them bound with fetters of gold.”
According to chapter 25, irritated by the words of the Ethiopian King, Cambyses decided to march against him, towards the heavenly extremities of the earth:
“When the spies had now seen everything, they returned back to Egypt, and made report to Cambyses, who was stirred to anger by their words. Forthwith he set out on his march against the Ethiopians without having made any provision for the sustenance of his army, or reflected that he was about to wage war in the uttermost parts of the earth.”
But the military expedition was a curse in itself, and failed much before having reached that land, spreading death and disaster among the Persian army:
“Before, however, he had accomplished one-fifth part of the distance, all that the army had in the way of provisions failed; whereupon the men began to eat the sumpter beasts, which shortly failed also. If then, at this time, Cambyses, seeing what was happening, had confessed himself in the wrong, and led his army back, he would have done the wisest thing that he could after the mistake made at the outset; but as it was, he took no manner of heed, but continued to march forwards. So long as the earth gave them anything, the soldiers sustained life by eating the grass and herbs; but when they came to the bare sand, a portion of them were guilty of a horrid deed: by tens they cast lots for a man, who was slain to be the food of the others. When Cambyses heard of these doings, alarmed at such cannibalism, he gave up his attack on Ethiopia, and retreating by the way he had come, reached Thebes, after he had lost vast numbers of his soldiers. From Thebes he marched down to Memphis, where he dismissed the Greeks, allowing them to sail home. And so ended the expedition against Ethiopia.”
This confirms thus the ancient fame of political independence and invincible freedom of the Ethiopians, coming out their divine righteousness.